Monday Mornings with Madison

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Staff Management

Using Chess Strategy in Business, Part 1

Chess is one of the fairest games there is. In chess, opponents start with an identical force. The entire playing field of a chess game is out in the open. A player can see every move an opponent makes as soon as he makes it. And, in chess, no dice are used so it is never a game of “chance” and there is no luck of the draw. Moreover, there is no referee involved in chess that might “throw” a game or be partial to one side over the other.
The business world is perhaps not as fair, balanced and chivalrous as a game of chess. In business, competitors seldom start with identical workforces, and a company can easily hire a better force. In business, a lot of deal-making is done behind-the-scenes and a company might not learn about a competitor’s initiatives until much later. And, in business, a company can innovate a product or service – or how it delivers that product or service — in ways that totally change the playing field for competitors. In fact, a company can innovate to the point of actually changing the game. Think of how Uber has revolutionized short-distance transportation and how Airbnb is changing the hospitality industry.
So, in many ways, business and chess are different. That said, chess is all about strategy and tactics. The best chess players are those who have the ability to stay ahead of their opponents and strategize goals that can be achieved as quickly as possible. In that regard, running a company is a lot like a game of chess. To stay ahead of the competition, companies must think strategically and be quick to implement. That’s where chess strategy can give business leaders guidance. While many games use methods that can be incorporated into how business decisions are made, chess requires strategic decision-making, connections, timing, tactics and evaluation. Continue reading

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How to Spot and Hire A Players for Key Positions

When organizations hire employees for key positions, they want superstars. They want rainmakers and movers-and-shakers. Basically, they want A Players. They certainly don’t set out to hire 10% A Players, 80% B Players and 10% C Players. But that’s what most companies have. Still, it is fair to say that no recruiter ever hired someone knowing he would be a C Player, nor could he have known with certainty who was an A Player and who was a B Player. If only 10% of the employees at most companies are A Players, then clearly HR departments are hiring lots of B and C Players. That implies that it must be hard (or should we say nearly impossible) to distinguish between A, B and C Players.
The truth is that it is a challenge to distinguish between A, B and C Players. But when hiring for key positions, spotting A Players is essential. Certainly, companies more capable of spotting and hiring A Players for key positions will likely grow and thrive. A Players are the ones most likely to deliver creativity and innovation. They are the ones most likely to drive productivity, growth, and sales. They produce results. By the same token, it is reasonable to conclude that companies that have trouble identifying, hiring and keeping A Players will likely be less successful. So how does a manager spot and hire the A-list for his roster when they are not only hard to spot, but also when every other company is vying for the same top talent? Continue reading

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A-Players vs. B-Players: Understanding the Value of Each Type of Employee

Employees are the most valuable resource of any company. From Apple to DeBeers to Walmart, employees are the ones who lead, manage, create, innovate, implement, interact and engage with others on behalf of the company. Only in the smallest companies do the owners perform the majority of the work. In most other companies, employees do most of the work that generates profit. For that reason, recruiting and hiring individuals with the skills and qualities to fit specific openings is the hardest thing any company does… even in the most successful organizations. And it doesn’t matter if the position is an entry-level receptionist, a seasoned salesperson, a highly-technical professional position, or C-Suite executive. Each opening has an ideal set of skills and qualities that would be the best fit for that job at that company. But the more remarkable the skills and qualities needed in an employee, the harder it is to find the right person to fill that job.
Given the importance of employees, one would think that companies should seek to only hire the most talented and successful candidates for every opening. They are often referred to as A-Players. But in reality, it is neither practical nor necessary for every employee at a company to be an A-Player. The truth is that not every opening at every company requires an A-Player and most of the time B-Players are a better fit for the majority of openings. What’s the difference between an A-Player and a B-Player (and what’s a C-Player)? When is it essential to hire A-Players? And how does one tell the difference between the A, B and C-Players when they apply for a job? Continue reading

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When “Company Policy” Creates Lifelong Customers… for the Competition

There are three little words that help businesses create lifelong customers more effectively than practically any other phrase: “It’s company policy.” The problem is that those words create lifelong customers for the competition of the company saying that to its customers. For businesses that want to drive their customers to the competition, have at it. Use that phrase to your heart’s content. Better yet, just close your doors now and save yourself the time and slow agony of going out of business the old fashioned way… failure to make money.
Let’s face it. Saying “It’s company policy” to a customer is just a nicer way of saying “We don’t want your business.” That is what a customer hears when an employee blames “company policy” for an unwillingness or inability to solve a problem or accommodate a request. And when a manager says “It’s company policy” to an employee, he is saying “If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else.” As technology and innovation continues to disrupt industry after industry, leaders and managers will be forced to decide whether they are going to stick-to-their-guns and cling to outdated company policies that kill business and alienate employees, or whether they are going to innovate and evolve with the times. Continue reading

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When Teamwork Breaks Down

It was recently reported that Usain Bolt – dubbed the world’s fastest runner – was stripped of one of his nine Gold medals. Unlike other occasions when athletes have lost a medal or award, in this case Bolt himself did nothing wrong. He was not guilty of cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct. Rather, Bolt lost the Olympic gold medal because his teammate, Nesta Carter, tested positive for a banned stimulant found during a re-analysis of samples from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Carter and Bolt were teammates on the winning 4×100-meter team, which set a world record of 37.10 seconds. Carter ran the opening leg, and Bolt took the baton third in the race. But doping by even one member of the team disqualified the entire team – four athletes – from the competition.
Besides being heartbreaking for the three innocent athletes, this case is indicative of the importance and vulnerability of teamwork. And it is instructive about what happens when teamwork breaks down. In truth, while people tend to think that teams are the democratic—and the efficient—way to get things done, research shows that most of the time team members don’t even agree on what the team is supposed to be doing or what is most important. Getting agreement is the leader’s job, and he must be willing to take great personal and professional risks to set the team’s direction. And if the leader isn’t disciplined about managing who is on the team and how it is set up, the odds are slim that a team will do a good job. This is certainly true in Olympic sports and – although perhaps less glamorous — it is also true in business. So what do we know about teams, why they break down and what can be done to ensure they don’t? Continue reading

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Failures are Stepping Stones to Success

Failure and success. Winner and loser. Just what is the relationship between these concepts? Is there a vast ocean of qualities, traits, and achievements that separates failure from success? What makes a person a winner? Is success something you are, something you achieve or something you have? Do we consider someone a success because he or she has achieved certain milestones? What are those things? Education. Wealth. Respect. Fame. Power. Control. Relationships. Position.
What about failure? Does failing at some things in life make a person a failure? In truth, every person experiences at least some failures in their lifetime. Even billionaire President Donald Trump has had businesses that failed. That is just part of being human. People make mistakes. Social blunders. Professional missteps. Financial mistakes. Business miscalculations. Is it a cumulative effect? Does failing a certain number of times make a person a failure? If failing a lot doesn’t make a person a failure, then what does?
How do we define failure and success? Can someone who flopped at most everything he did for a large portion of his life later be seen as a success? There is plenty of evidence that failure and success seem to go hand-in-hand. Some of the people we most admire and respect in history were considered utter failures at one point in their life before achieving great success. Just how did those failures become successes? Is failure an essential part of the journey to success? Continue reading

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Essential Tools for Today’s Mobile Workers

Millions of professionals worldwide spend a huge part of their work life traveling. Salespeople are constantly driving from place to place, meeting with clients or potential clients or visiting job sites. Service professionals and consultants often go to their customer’s locations to provide support. Couriers and logistics companies constantly have their employees on the road. Even many dentists and doctors have multiple offices or hospitals to which they drive to daily. It is not unusual for busy execs to be ‘on the road’ half of their work week or more.
Working in a car is tough, even if it is only for part of each day. Mobile workers need to stay in touch all day. That’s not easy to do when constantly on the move. Staying connected to the Internet is key to remaining productive. That means having power, connectivity, and the ability to create, send, receive and print information… all from or in a car. Thankfully, technology has done a lot to make it easier than ever before to get online, dialed in, and powered up while on the road. Here’s how. Continue reading

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Remaining Relevant in 2017 and Beyond, Part 2

Many occupations have disappeared due to automation, advanced machinery and computers. Manufacturing jobs have decreased in number and salary. Clerical jobs have dwindled as technology has streamlined office processes. Clean forms of energy have hurt mining and related industries. Robotics, computer automation and engineering advances will surely put an end to even more jobs such as bon-bon dippers, check writers, finger cobblers, clock hand inspectors, and globe mounters.

Some fear that technology will eventually replace every job and make human labor obsolete. But consider that technological advances have been pushing people out of job since long before the Industrial Revolution. This is nothing new. While technology killed some jobs, those same technological advances created other new jobs. And while computers and robots can do a great many things, they are also many other things they simply cannot do… and will likely never be able to do.
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Remaining Relevant in 2017 and Beyond, Part 1

The world’s most sophisticated computers can out-think most humans today. They have more memory, greater instant access to information and don’t need anything except electricity (and maybe an Internet connection) to keep going 24 hours a day. Even the average laptop is able to perform many tasks that once required human involvement. And, as robotics are infused into more machinery and engineering, the work once done by humans to make things is also being increasingly replaced by computerized machines. Robots don’t need sleep, hydration, nutrition or oxygen to breath. Robots don’t take vacations, don’t go on maternity leave, don’t need coffee breaks (or coffee, for that matter), or want fringe benefits like increasingly expensive health insurance. Robots don’t have bad days, sick kids or aging parents. Computers and robots have a shorter life span, but can be depreciated and written off on taxes, along with other equipment. In short, technological innovations are increasingly making some jobs obsolete.
This could be of deep concern for those who are being phased out with each new technological development. Technology can cause some individuals to become unemployed and maybe even unemployable. For those who are afraid of become obsolete, consider that there are certain skills that even the most intelligent computers and sophisticated robots cannot do, and likely will never be able to do (or at least not in the foreseeable future). So what are those skills? Continue reading

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The Down Side of an Instant Gratification Culture

We live in an increasingly Faster-is-Better world. We want what we want… and we want it now. Waiting has become a cardinal sin. Waiting more than two seconds for a web page to load increases bounce rates. Waiting for pedestrians to get out of a crosswalk makes drivers dangerously antsy. Waiting on hold more than a minute for a company to provide service causes customers to hang up and go elsewhere. Speed has become so important that businesses have sprung up focused on providing faster service. Walmart, eBay and Amazon are all offering same-day delivery in many locations. Uber’s business model is built on ensuring that a person who needs a ride can get one at a moment’s notice anywhere. Drive-through windows have sprung up for everything from groceries to medicines. Some furniture stores now also offer same-day delivery. Even the world of entertainment has begun catering to the increasing demand for instant results. Companies like Netflix are now offering an entire season’s worth of programs all at once to feed the desire to “binge-watch” without having to wait for the next installment. This demand for “immediate” has seeped into every corner of life – both real and virtual.
Some see this growing trend toward haste as progress and impatience as a quality shared by highly successful people. If – as the saying goes – ‘time is money’ and wasted time equals lost revenue, then the desire for instant results makes sense. What’s more, the value placed on immediacy is creating businesses and jobs. Client demand for “now” is driving innovation. It could be said that the insatiable thirst for instant gratification is pushing – or should we say shoving — companies to be more customer-service oriented. And most would agree that that is a good thing. But there is also a saying that ‘haste makes waste.’ So is there a problem with this increasing need for speed? Continue reading

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